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UN, AU Call for Restraint Along Eritrea-Djibouti Border

By Salem Solomon June 20, 2017

The U.N. Security Council is calling on Eritrea and Djibouti to peacefully resolve a land dispute along their border.

Djibouti accused Eritrea of deploying troops to occupy the contested area, known as Ras Doumeira, after a contingent of 450 Qatari peacekeepers departed last week. If true, the move could threaten a return to war for the first time since the countries fought over the land in 2008.

In a news conference Monday, Sacha Sergio Llorenty Soliz, the permanent representative of the president of the U.N. Security Council, said that council members supported an African Union initiative to deploy a fact-finding mission to the border and that all parties should work to "maintain an atmosphere of calm and restraint."

The U.N. assistant secretary-general for political affairs, Taye-Brook Zerihoun of Ethiopia, held a briefing for members to discuss the matter. Soliz said members were considering "future confidence-building measures." He added that members would continue to follow the situation closely.

Ethiopia, which fought a war against Eritrea from 1998 to 2000, currently holds a two-year nonpermanent seat on the Security Council.

No 'speculative analysis'

On Friday, the Eritrean government issued a statement saying it would wait to get more information and not "engage in speculative analysis at this stage." Eritrea's ambassador to the African Union, Araya Desta, told The Associated Press his government didn't want to take any land from Djibouti, and "the last time, we had some skirmishes. It was unnecessary."

Djibouti officials agreed that the only way to resolve border tensions is through peaceful means. "We urge Eritrea to resolve the border dispute peacefully with Djibouti, as we've always said as a matter of priority and in a manner consistent with international law," Djibouti's ambassador to the United Nations, Mohamed Siad Doualeh, told VOA last week.

Ebba Kalondo, African Union spokesperson, told VOA's DayBreak Africa that the AU was ready to help resolve the matter.

"The chairperson of the AU Commission [Moussa Faki] also stands ready to assist Djibouti and Eritrea to normalize the relationship and promote good neighborliness within the framework of the relevant and current AU instruments," Kalondo said.

The International Authority on Governmental Development, an East African trade bloc, also threw its weight behind talks, saying it would "relentlessly work towards bringing peace" between the two countries.

Friction in 1996

Ras Doumeira has been a source of tension since 1996, when a Djiboutian official accused Eritrea of shelling the area. Tensions continued in 1999 when Eritrea accused Djibouti of supporting Ethiopia.

Djibouti also has accused Eritrea of hosting Djiboutian rebels. In 2008, the two countries had a skirmish resulting in an unknown number of dead and wounded.

Tensions appeared to be easing last year when Eritrea released four Djiboutians who had been held as prisoners of war for eight years.

VOA's James Butty and Abdulaziz Oman contributed to this report.

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